A new program is offering people who are homeless a chance to earn a little extra money by cleaning up the downtown core.
Organized by the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the Durham Street location of the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario, it’s a program that participant Brandon Bill said is giving him not only a sense of purpose, but also something to do all day.
Bill came from St. Catherines to his partner’s hometown of Sudbury after, as he puts it, “some things happened and we needed to get out of there.”
They arrived in Sudbury in November of last year and have been homeless since: it’s Bill’s first time being homeless. Bill does stay at the shelter at night, and spends time at the cooling centre on Larch Street, run by Sudbury Action Centre for Youth. Bill said it’s a nice break from the heat to go and watch a movie.
But that is monotonous, and he wanted to find a way to be productive. Though he says he’s somewhat less-than-employable at the moment, he was looking for a way to contribute the best he could.
That’s why Bill was pleased to find the program now run by the Downtown BIA. It’s zero barrier, does not require any more commitment than two hours, whenever he feels up to it, and allows Bill to earn an honorarium that helps him and his partner quite a bit.
Kyle Marcus, managing director of the Downtown BIA, said the program is designed to ameliorate what he calls a community issue. It’s a chance to clean up the downtown core, while also giving a chance for those living there to feel pride and a sense of belonging.
It’s a sponsor drive, community-led clean up program, said Marcus, and the zero-barrier aspects of it are what make it truly accessible to those living in the downtown area.
“Basically, if you were using drugs yesterday, and you're using drugs tomorrow, but today, you want somewhere better to be somewhat productive and with a purpose,” said Marcus, “we want to invite you to come and clean up.”
The opportunity comes twice a day on a first come, first serve basis. No one needs to come for every shift, simply show up when you feel able. Three to five people head out for one or both of the two daily cleanups, taking two hours each. Each person is given $10 per hour as an honorarium.
“It's not a paid employment program,” said Marcus. “It's more of a mental health program that gives them a positive place to be for a few hours every day.”
The Downtown BIA and YMCA gave the first seed funding for the project and are now looking for community sponsorship. So far, they have the program set to run until January, but sponsors are needed for the months after that. Marcus said the organization wants to continue throughout the winter and offer salting and shovelling, a help to complete the aspects of snow and slush that make Downtown inaccessible for some.
The sponsorship of the program covers the honorarium, but also, the supplies needed, including garbage bags and a bin, as well as brooms and sharps disposal boxes. Also, the downtown “hot rods” as Marcus affectionately calls the mobile sanitation stations that workers can use to help. “Our level one sponsorship package is $100 to $500, they get recognition in our monthly newsletter and a social media post, once a week, for one week,” said Marcus. Level two $500 to $1000 is the recognition of level one but for two weeks, rather than one, “and they get their logo on our hot rod,” said Marcus.
Level three covers a whole month and is $1,000-$2,000 (Marcus said $2,000 is the cost to run the program per month). “We issue a press release, we do a media blast outlining their sponsorship, twice a week, every week, they’re in our newsletter, their name on the sanitation cart. And of course, all three levels get a tax deductible receipt, as the payments go through the YMCA,” said Marcus.
Bill said he is proud to be a part of the program, and hopes to continue to do so. “So many people down on their luck, kicking rocks, really no hope down here. This is something. This is something we can do and feel like we’re helping.”